Sapphire PC-AM2RS790GX Pure 790GX Motherboard Review

ajmatson - 2009-01-24 13:43:06 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: March 4, 2009
Price: $TBD

Introduction:

With the release of the latest line of Phenom II series processors, we have seen a large influx of 790GX based boards that support the newer chips, from well known manufacturers, such as Gigabyte and more. However, a company with a great background of graphics cards is once again taking a plunge at manufacturing a competitive gaming board with a wealth of features and solid performance. Sapphire, one of the major manufacturers of ATI-based graphics cards, sent us its newest motherboard based on the AMD 790GX chipset. This chipset is designed to support both the latest AMD Phenom II AM2+ and AM3 processors with DDR2 support up to 1066MHz. Sapphire takes the base features of the chipset and adds on what it feels gamers and enthusiasts are looking for in a competitive motherboard.

 

Closer Look:

The Sapphire 790GX comes packaged in a green and black box, which Sapphire has chosen for its motherboards. As with its other motherboard boxes, this one also has several logos of features and products supported by the Sapphire 790GX motherboard. On the rear of the box, Sapphire lists some of the important features of the motherboard and has a full view of the board showing you the layout and design.

 

 

 

 

Once you get the box open, you can see the accessories and the motherboard. Along with the Sapphire Pure 790GX motherboard is the manual, driver CD, a 4-pin molex to SATA power adapter, an IDE cable, two SATA cables, the I/O shield plate, and the switch card for the graphics card to enable x16 for the BUS.

 

 

Now that everything is unboxed let's take a better look at how Sapphire designed the motherboard.

Closer Look:

Sapphire has come a long way with its products and this shows in its designing of the 790GX motherboard. They have chosen a blue-colored PC board for the 790GX Pure, which gives a nice display of colors to show off through your case if you have a window. The colors on the plastics for the memory and the expansion slots contrast nicely without being overly dominant. The Sapphire 790GX has a full-size ATX layout and supports both AM2+ and AM3 processors, including the new AM3 processors, with DDR2 memory support up to 1066MHz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O panel of the Sapphire 790GX offers plenty of connections to suit your needs. Starting from the top of the board there are the two PS/2 ports for keyboards and mice, an HDMI port, a DVI port and VGA port, four USB 2.0 ports, one Ethernet port, and the audio ports supporting 8-Channel HD audio using the Realtek ALC888 codec. There is no digital audio support and it would have been nice to have seen an eSATA port included for faster speeds with external storage.

 

 

Moving on to the expansion slots, you can see right off of the bat that there are two PCI Express x16 slots. This board supports multi-GPU CrossFire and CrossFireX configurations using discrete graphics cards or one discrete card and the integrated video. When using two discrete cards the speed of each slot is only x8. However, this is PCI Express 2.0, which has a greatly increased bandwidth over the previous generation, so you should not see any real performance drops. When using a single card you have to insert the Switch Card into the second PCI Express slot to enable x16 on the single card. There are also two PCI Express x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots for further expansion cards, such as sound and networking cards.

 

Sapphire has placed a wealth of headers on the Pure 790GX. Starting on the bottom left, there is the front panel audio header, the CD-in header, and IR header for an infrared device, a COM header, four USB headers, the front panel headers, and a speaker header. There are also six SATA ports, one IDE port, and one floppy port. In addition to the headers and the ports, Sapphire has tried to make life easier by including a Debug LED and a series of switches to power and reset the system ,as well as one to clear the CMOS without having to use a jumper or pull the battery.

 

 

The CPU area of the board has a pretty clean layout that makes installing larger heatsinks easy; I had no trouble trying to fit the Titan Cool Idol cooler to it even with the large heatsink over the voltage regulators. Speaking of voltage, the Sapphire 790GX features a VCore 7-shift, which allows you to control the CPU core voltage in seven steps for more precise overclocking. This board supports both AM2+ and AM3 processors, including the Phenom and Phenom II series. There is also support for up to 16GB of Dual-Channel DDR2 memory up to 1066MHz using the four DIMM slots on the board.

 

 

Sapphire has also placed great care in keeping the critical points of the motherboard cool. There is a small heatsink on the southbridge to keep it cooler and then there is a heatsink on both the northbridge and the voltage regulators with a heatpipe connecting them to ensure that they are not overheated during operation and overclocking. This allows for cooler running components and better stability. To the right of the northbridge heatsink, you can see the 128MB DDR3 Sideport memory chip that adds dedicated memory to the integrated RV610 graphics core.

 

 

 

Now that layout has been covered, we can move on to the BIOS to see what options we have for overclocking and tweaking.

Closer Look:

The BIOS, which is one of the most underrated and misunderstood parts of a computer, is actually more important than most other parts of your system. With a strong BIOS you can get the most out of your computer, while a weak BIOS  can cause your components to suffer, such as memory timings and speeds. Most of the BIOS's available these days are broken down in a menu type system with different sections controlling different parts of the BIOS. We are going to take a look at each menu in the BIOS of the Sapphire PC-AM2RS790GX so you can get a better idea of what is available for you and your tweaking adventure.

 

 

Main Screen, Standard CMOS Features & Advanced BIOS Features:

The Main Screen is what you are presented with when you first enter the BIOS program. This is where you choose the sub menu based on your needs. This is also where you can load defaults and save your changes. The Standard CMOS section allows you to change the date/time and make changes to the drive selections. In the Advanced BIOS features section you can turn on and off features such as CPU Virtualization and Cool & Quiet, as well as change the boot order.

 

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

The Advanced Chipset Features section is where you have control over settings such as HyperTransport features and PCI Express configurations including the HyperThreading frequency, and the integrated graphics chip.

 

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

The Integrated Peripherals section is where you have control over onboard devices such as the SATA ports, IDE ports, and other peripherals like your mouse and keyboard. For the SATA ports you can set them in IDE mode, RAID mode or ACHI mode for hot swap abilities. Here you can also change the LAN settings and USB settings.

 

 

Power Management, Miscellaneous Control, PC Health & Thermal Throttling:

These small sub sections give you the ability to monitor and control safety settings in case of disaster or problems. You can also set the power settings of the computer to help do your part in keeping the earth greener.

 

 

 

Now let's take a look at the section where the overclocking tweaks take place.

Closer Look:

Power User Overclock Settings:

This is the section where all the overclocking magic takes place. Sapphire has added a feature to the BIOS of the 790GX that, as an overclocking enthusiast, I really like. This is the ability to save an overclocked profile for easy recall later, especially after a boot failure during overclocking. Underneath the profiles is the CPU features sub menu. This sub menu gives controls for Virtualization, C1E and Advanced Clock Calibration, which pushes all cores in percents for overclocking. You also have the option in the Overclock Settings menu to alter the CPU core voltage using manual changes or the VCore 7-Shift feature, which raises it by a percentage in seven steps from 5% to 35%. You can also change the voltages for other devices, such as the memory and the chipset. For the memory there is a sub menu that gives you full control over memory features and timings for precision overclocking. With all the tools available for you in this menu, you can create nice stable overclocks with less chance of failure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have seen the BIOS we can boot up and install the software and drivers.

Closer Look:

To install the drivers and additional programs for the Sapphire Pure 790GX motherboard, all you have to do is place the CD into the drive and the auto-start program will start up for you. There is a menu system that starts up, which allows you to select what you want to install. The options you have are to install the ATI chipset, sound or LAN drivers, create RAID disks, install an antivirus program, install a hardware monitor, install AMD Overdrive overclocking utility, or browse the CD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To install the chipset drivers you have to install the Catalyst Control Center, which in turn will install the correct drivers needed to run the motherboard. Just follow the prompts and the Control Center will do the rest. When the installer is complete, you have to reset the computer for the installation to complete.

 

 

 

There are several programs that come with the motherboard to help you get the most out of your new system. The antivirus program is the Trend Micro Internet Security program, which protects your new computer from attacks. There is also the MyGuard program that allows you to monitor your systems speeds, temperatures, voltages and even fan speeds. The overclocking utility that is provided is the AMD Overdrive Utility, which makes overclocking your system simple and effective. Finally, you have the option to manually navigate the CD.

 

 

 

Now that everything is installed and configured, the testing can begin.

Specifications:

 

CPU:
Supports AMD Socket AM2+/AM2:
AMD Phenom FX/Phenom processors
Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 / Sempron processors
Chipset:
AMD™ 790GX Chipset + AMD™SB750 Chipset
HyperTransport BUS:
HT 3.0
Memory:
Dual-Channel DDR2 memory technology
4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM slots
Supports DDR2 1066/800 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Max.16GB
Expansion Slots:
2 x 32-bit PCI Slots
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (X8+X8 or X16+switch card)
2 x PCI Express x1
Storage:
AMD™SB750 Southbridge Chipset :
6 x Serial ATA2 3Gb/s connectors
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 functions
1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 IDE connector
Audio:
Realtek  ALC888 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Ethernet LAN:
Realtek  RTL8111C PCI Express Gigabit NIC
USB:
Embedded 12 x USB 2.0/1.1
Special Features:
Advanced Power Design that supports the latest Socket-AM2 + / AM3 CPU
BIOS 7-Segment Debug LED
Support ACPI S3
ATI Hybrid graphics technology to enhance graphic performance max to 70%~80% with ATI Radeon HD2400 / HD3400 series graphics card
ATI CrossFireX technology to do H/W CrossFire by multi graphic engines
Internal Graphic core RV610 support DX10
“IMAGE IT!” System Backup Software and “ProMagicPLUS!” System Recovery System
Rear Panel I/O:
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x PS/2 mouse & keyboard port
1 x VGA port + 1 * DVI port + 1 * HDMI port
1 x RJ-45 port
1 x 8 CH HD Audio I / O port
Internal I/O:
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers for 8 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
CPU / Chassis Fan connectors
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x 24-pin ATX Power connector
1 x Serial Port of 9-pin block
CD / AUX Audio in
1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 IDE connector + 1 * Floppy connector
1 x HDMI_SPDIF header + 1 * IR header
BIOS:
Award 8MB SPI Flash ROM
Form Factor:
ATX Form Factor(305 x 245mm)

 

 

 

Features: 

 

All information courtesy of Sapphiretech @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/us/products/products_overview.php?gpid=276&grp=6

Testing:

To test the Sapphire PC-AM2RS790GX Pure motherboard, I will be running a series of benchmarks designed to push the components to the limits. These tests will include both scientific and video based benchmarks to give us an all around idea of the board's performance. I will then compare the Sapphire 790GX to the Gigabyte 790GX based motherboard to see where it stands among the chipset. To keep the tests as fair as possible, all hardware will be run at stock speeds, timings, and voltages. This will take out any variables that might interfere with the scores.

 

Testing Setup AMD CPU's:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

To overclock the Sapphire 790GX, I chose to use the BIOS first to see what I could get out of it. I slowly raised the voltage while increaing the multiplier until I no longer could boot and remain stable. Once I reached the maximum on the multiplier I started raising the BUS speed 1MHz at a time. The Sapphire 790GX did not like me pushing the BUS speed very far. In fact, I could only get an extra 10MHz out of it before I could no longer boot successfully. The final overclock I could reach was 3.571GHz, which is a bus speed of 210 with a multiplier of 17x and a voltage of 1.55v on the core. I also wanted to see if I could push it anymore using the AMD Overdrive utility, however I could not squeeze any more juice out of her.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty: World at War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing regimen will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

  

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Lower is better.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

For Apophysis, which uses CPU speed, the Sapphire board was a few minutes slower than the Gigabyte board in the stock test. In the Winrar tests the Sapphire board was slightly slower as well.

Testing:

Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

In Specview the numbers were close, but the Sapphire board was a little behind. In PCMark Vantage, the Sapphire board once again trailed a bit.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The Sapphire board again trailed slightly behind in most tests.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Higher is Better

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Suprising twist in these three benchmarks; the Sapphire board took the lead.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real-time effects and damage. This next generation first-person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft, surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this Far Cry game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

For Far Cry 2, the Sapphire board was behind, but not by enough to make much of a difference in real gameplay.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the storyline of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the margins were negligible between the two boards.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddys". It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pattern keeps continuing except with the 1680x1050 resolution where the Sapphire board took a slight lead.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30-inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire board fell behind once again in Call of Duty: World at War.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse, starting with the crash landing of the seemingly silent and "dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional, over-the-shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Dead Space, the Sapphire managed to pull off the lead again.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire board trailed behind once again.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. Your goal is to make it to a rescue point, all while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie "I Am Legend" comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombies. These zombies are quick and work with pack mentality. You have but one job; survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scores here in Left 4 Dead were almost dead even (no pun intended).

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Again the Sapphire board is giving the Gigabyte board a run for the money, but comes up a bit short.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024x768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well in 3DMark Vantage the tides turned in favor of the Sapphire board.

Conclusion:

I must say I am very impressed with this motherboard. It ran very stable at stock speeds and overclocked, even though the overclock was not that high. I like how Sapphire took the time in the designing of the board's features, although there were a couple of design flaws I noticed during the testing. First, the placement of the top two SATA ports and the onboard power and reset buttons are covered when you are using a large video card, such as the GTX 260 used in this review, rendering them useless. Even using right-angle SATA cables, I could not get access to the ports. Secondly, there is a lot of empty real estate on the back panel. It would have been nice to have a couple of extra USB 2.0 ports available and even maybe an eSATA port.

When it came to performance, the Sapphire motherboard was up and down. There were some tests where the Sapphire board was slightly ahead of the Gigabyte one and some tests where it was slightly behind. However, on a whole, the scores were close enough to be negligible. Overclocking the Sapphire 790GX was somewhat low since I was only able to obtain just slightly more than 500MHz using either the BIOS or the AMD Overdrive Utility. Even with the voltage maxed out to the safest level, there was no more budging.

Overall this is a very nice motherboard and one that should be considered when making a purchase for a 790GX motherboard. For what the chipset is selling for, this board offers some features that other boards of the same chipset do not, such as the Debug LED, which, when you are an enthusiast, this little tool can save a whole lot of time if you have hardware issues. Of all the 790GX boards I have tested and used, this is definitely one of the top boards I would consider. If Sapphire took care of the design quirks and added a bit more to the back panel, this would be a hard board to beat.

   

Pros:

 

Cons: